On Veterans Day, we as a country will come together to honor the men and women who have served this country honorably and proudly in uniform. As these veterans served the United States overseas, it is important that on this day we reflect on how we can support them when they return. With many of our service-members returning from abroad to a weak economy, it is our collective responsibility to ensure veterans have the economic opportunities to build their lives here at home.
As a veteran, I know first-hand the challenges of returning from duty and embarking on a new career. Based on my experience, I knew this industry could offer both veterans both the opportunity to start a new career and business.
So two years ago, I along with the 562 other franchise businesses that make up the International Franchise Association’s VetFran strategic initiative, committed to the White House Joining Forces initiative. Through this industry-wide campaign known as Operation Enduring Opportunity, we pledged to hire and recruit 80,000 veterans and military spouses by 2014. This includes wounded warriors and franchise small business owners.
We knew these efforts were not only the right thing to do, but also had the added benefit of being great for business. Given their work ethic, drive, and passion, veterans have always played a significant role in the franchise industry. According to a recent study conducted for the International Franchise Assocation Educational Foundation, there are more than 66,000 veteran-owned franchise businesses in the U.S., which is equal to one out of every seven franchise businesses. These “vetrepreneurs” directly provide jobs for 815,000 Americans and generate more than $41 billion in Gross Domestic Product.
In short, while we knew this program would be a success, even the most optimistic of us could not predict the overwhelming success we’ve seen. In the first year alone, 65,000 veterans joined the franchise industry. Now, the latest figures show that not only did we meet our 2014 goal in 2013, we more than doubled it. In total, more than 150,000 veterans and military spouses are now the newest members of the franchise industry more than 5,000 of which are new small business owners.
The cumulative effort of these public-private partnerships has delivered results on a national level. Veteran unemployment has fallen from almost 10 percent at the end of 2011 to 6.5 percent today. Yet, work still needs to be done. More service-members continue to return home from abroad and of the young veterans already here, roughly 20 percent are unemployed.
To that end, we are proud to announce a Strategic Agreement of Memorandum between VetFran and the U.S. Small Business Administration. This program will work with SBA’s Operation Boots to Business to provide veterans interested in entrepreneurship and small business with information on franchising opportunities, legal issues, finance, and the fundamentals of the franchising model from experts in the industry. With an estimated 45,000 service-members expected to go through the Operation Boots to Business program, this new partnership will immediately help many veterans understand the benefits of owning a franchise.
I encourage veterans to seek involvement in the franchise industry, which is growing faster than the rest of the economy, but more importantly, I encourage others to join efforts to promote veterans employment. It’s the right thing to do and has the added benefit of being great for business.
Welch is an Army veteran, attorney and owner of Children’s Lighthouse Learning Centers in Austin